To Booze or Not to Booze near the Alamo?

San Antonio is in a tizzy. When officials from the Texas General Land Office okayed a plan to allow caterers to serve hooch at after-hours events at Alamo Hall, a repurposed 1922 fire station near but not on the grounds of the Alamo complex, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas roared into action.

"We recognize that they can do it, but we oppose it at this time," said DRT president Karen Thompson. "We don't feel that it shows respect. You wouldn't see alcohol served at Gettysburg or Arlington."

Land Office head Jerry Patterson, a retired marine who served in Vietnam, disagrees."If veterans of past conflicts can cherish a bottle of wine until the last one living partakes of that bottle in honor of his deceased comrades, I fail to understand how alcohol in and of itself is irreverent or disrespectful."

As every man who tried to command it would find out, irreverent and disrespectful might be the two best adjectives to describe the Texas army of 1836. Those two, and drunk, plastered and wasted, too, which partially explains why they were so ornery. This was an army that marched less on its stomach than its liver.

After all, it was headed by Sam Houston, a guy who routinely embarked on months-long benders and who was known to his Indian friends as "The Big Drunk."

While Texan troops were besieging San Antonio, Stephen F. Austin passed through camp and was appalled at their epic levels of consumption. "In the name of Almighty God send no more ardent spirits to this camp," he wrote to the civil authorities in charge of supplying the men. "If any is on the road turn it back, or have the head knocked out."

After San Antonio fell to the Texans, its garrison was co-commanded by the temperate William Barrett Travis and the hell-for-leather, terminally ill knife-fighting boozehound James Bowie. Before the Mexican siege began, and before Bowie took to what would soon be his deathbed in the Alamo, two-thirds of the 150 men in the garrison were loyal only to Bowie, not least because he was, like them, a party animal.

Some believe that fondness for the bottle almost spelled doom for the Texas Revolution.

Just before the cavalry vanguard of Santa Anna's army reached the city, most of Bowie's men had been vigorously celebrating George Washington's birthday. And by vigorously celebrating, we mean they got shitfaced and stayed that way for two straight days and nights. Military historian Wayne R. Austerman believes that had Santa Anna's underling Brigadier General Joaquin Ramirez y Sesma not lost his nerve and unaccountably, and in retrospect, disastrously halted his cavalry at the outskirts of town, he could have made short work of the hungover and/or still-intoxicated Texans, who were then scattered all over San Antonio. Few if any of them would have been able to stagger back to the relative safety of the Alamo; Sesma's horsemen could have lanced them like wild animals. Had Sesma done so, Santa Anna could have chased Houston's army right out of Texas before the rains came and slowed his army to a crawl.

So who knows? As Sesma pondered whether or not to attack, maybe a shot of liquid courage would have done him, and the Republic of Mexico, some good.

So from a historical perspective, this is a hard call. The stone-cold alcoholic Sam Houston eventually won the war for Texas. Sesma didn't drink when he should have and Bowie did drink when he shouldn't have, and both met with disaster.

Just goes to prove that old Homer Simpson adage yet again: "To alcohol, the cause of a solution to all life's problems."

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John Nova Lomax
Contact: John Nova Lomax